Volume 43, Issue 3 - March 2008
USG Only Online--Expanded
The 4th Annual
Letitia Barker has come a long way since 1979. That’s when she joined Dallas-based Haley-Greer as its first employee. “My father [Don Haley] started the company with James Greer and I helped set up the business,” says Barker (see the July 2003 USGlass magazine, page 56, to read our exclusive interview with Don Haley). “I remember buying our first copier, which looked a whole lot different than the ones we have today.” Barker didn’t stay there long, though, leaving after about two years when her husband’s job took them to Florida. She returned to Dallas in 1995 to serve as chief financial officer of Haley-Greer, and became president in 2003.
It’s rare that a woman’s in charge of one of the country’s largest contract-glazing companies (see chart on page 41). After all, the vast majority of professionals working in the construction industry are men. But Barker is not alone; several women presidents and/or chief executive officers (CEO) are leading contract-glazing companies across the country toward growth, innovation and success.
“They were born into a construction family. They’ve been around the business, they know it and they enjoy it,” says Barker. “And today there are so many educational programs in colleges and schools that there are more possibilities to get education in construction as well.”
Like Barker, Robyn McGinnis, president and CEO of Sierra Glass & Mirror in Las Vegas, also runs the company her father started in 1979. McGinnis took over in 2005 and before that worked in hotel management and advertising. She says the glass business has been both interesting and challenging.
“My first year was very intimidating, and being a woman in an industry that I always perceived to be a man’s domain made it even more so. Other than a summer or two answering phones, neither my sister nor I ever worked at Sierra, but my brother did,” says McGinnis. “So, it was important for me to surround myself with people I trusted—talented, skilled and definitely open-minded individuals. I rely so much on my team to bounce ideas off of and to help grow the company. I think it’s important to surround yourself with those who know more than you do and can offer a different perspective.”
Though Juba Aluminum Products Co. Inc. in Concord, N.C., has been in operation only since 1993, like both Haley-Greer and Sierra, it, too, is a family business—and it also has a women CEO. Joni Juba, CEO of the company, says her family has been in the glass business for more than 30 years. Her husband, John, who serves as the company’s president, got started in the industry in 1970 working for PPG.
“Since that time, both John and I, and our family, have been actively involved in the industry,” says Joni Juba.
Best Foot Forward
“It’s certainly rewarding,” says Juba. “There is a great satisfaction in saying, ‘we built that.’” And as far as her challenges? “This industry isn’t particularly known for its work-life balances,” she says. “It is a fast-changing industry and has the reputation of being very demanding.”
Barker says she like that fact that there’s a lot of “action” to this industry. “I like that it’s so results-oriented and you can see the work from start to finish,” she says. “Because of the fact that it is a man’s industry traditionally, it challenges me more to make it an adventure since I’m working in a field in which someone might not think that I could be successful. So it’s never been a detriment to me. My father once said, ‘If you’ll just learn the business you’ll be amazed how successful you’ll be. Women have an automatic entrance in the front door because the men are going to be polite, but after you show them you know what you’re talking about you’ll really be successful.’”
McGinnis says as a woman in the contract-glazing field she does find she has to work a bit harder than others might to prove she is capable of doing the work.
“I believe there’s a level of respect for anyone, male or female, in top positions, but the challenge has been getting customers, clients, contractors, architects, etc. to have faith in my ability to deliver a major construction project in the same way a man would, on schedule and within budget,” says McGinnis.
“I think that automatically they take a second look because they are so used to seeing a male owner and when a woman walks in, they’re surprised. Once you’ve worked with them and they’ve come to know you’re as capable to deliver as anyone, the fact that you’re a woman is not such a big deal.” Those second looks must be paying off, because these female-lead contract glaziers are winning major projects. In Dallas, Barker is excited about the work her company is doing on the new Dallas Cowboys stadium, which is expected to be ready for the 2009 football season. She says they are currently installing the curtainwall skin.
“We’re fortunate to work on many great projects, one of them being the new Dallas Cowboys stadium,” says Barker. “The stadium will have one of the largest inverted-slope glazed curtainwalls in the world, and the end-zone doors are going to be the largest operable glass doors ever produced.”
In Las Vegas, Sierra Glass is working on the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute—famed architect Frank Gehry’s first Las Vegas project. “The architecture is such that it twists and turns within itself in a way that some believe to resemble a human brain,” says McGinnis. She says while the intricacy has created some challenges, her team is extremely excited about adding the completed project to the company’s portfolio.
“The tests needed to be taken by people who we knew would be with the company for a while, so I decided to attempt and take it.” Barker says she studied diligently for the test, which she took along with a gentleman from Haley-Greer. “Afterwards he said to me, ‘That was really unfair that you had to take that test; it was so difficult.’ Well, I passed that test with flying colors. That was when I knew that this business was not just for a man and that I, too, could be successful.” For McGinnis, taking over the company her father started has been most significant.
“It’s more than just a business. My father started this company 30 years ago, and devoted his life to ensuring its success. I truly had no idea the challenges he faced, but I knew I was going to devote all I had to ensure the ongoing success of the company he spent his life building,” she says.
“I always idolized my dad, but I have such a newfound respect for the man he was. He made success look easy. Stepping into his shoes as the president of Sierra Glass so long after his passing was a great reminder of what I had lost and how much I missed him. When I’m faced with a daunting challenge I always wonder what he would do. I’m convinced his success was based on very basic principles: integrity, honesty, a great team and a deep devotion to his customers, suppliers and employees. I follow those same principles.”
Juba says she most enjoys the people and relationships that come with the job. “It continues to be gratifying to have the opportunity to be involved in the early planning and pre-design stages of a project,” she adds.
McGinnis says she expects to see an increase, too. “By their very nature, women are fixers, they are born managers (women have been managing homes since the beginning of time) and this work is all about management skills, creativity, follow-through and communication,” McGinnis says.
“Women can bring something different to a table full of men. I’m not saying women are better than men, just different, and often times we see situations completely differently, so we react to them differently. Different perspectives are important in any business, and I hope that more women do get involved, because I believe more women in it will only benefit our industry.”
And just what advice would Barker, McGinnis and Juba give to those ladies out there thinking of joining the industry? Thicken up your skin.
“It’s a creative field, but it’s not for the weak,” says Barker. “You’ve got to be willing to diver right in.”
McGinnis agrees. “It’s a tough, confrontational business and if you’re looking for something without stress, this isn’t it. It’s challenging, but rewarding, work.” Though it may be tough work, McGinnis still thinks it’s exciting. “This is a fantastic business. Glass is so beautiful and it’s often the most outstanding, exquisite product on a building,” she says. “[The completed project] is a work of art and as a glazing contractor our contribution is one of the most important and most difficult.
Whether you’re in the field or in the office, when you see [all of your hard work] in its finished state it all becomes worth it and you’re anxious to get to work on the next one.” Juba agrees, the contract glazing industry is a great one in which to work. So much that it’s “easier getting on than getting out.” But on a serious note she adds, “There’s never been a better time to get into this industry.”